Forget Democrazy, Give Me Safe Borders

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Almost three years after the Arab Spring began its region-wide sweep - ostensibly in search of democratic change - scant attention has been paid to one of its most dangerous consequences: the fraying of borders.

Weapons, militias, foreign Special Forces, smugglers, gangs and crooks now regularly traverse borders from the Levant to the Maghreb to the Persian Gulf. And these territorial infractions across Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and other states will inhibit prospects for “democracy” more than any single development in the region.

The logic? Very simply, this: If you don’t have territorial integrity, you don’t have a “state.” If you don’t have a state, you cannot build institutions. If you don’t have institutions, you will never have representative government.

The foreign geniuses who thought they could invade and “regime-change” their way to “democracy” with first Iraq and Afghanistan, then Libya and Syria, forgot the foundational elements of a nation-state – namely, sovereignty and territorial integrity. When you cross a border uninvited and undermine a central government, you rip at the seams of the state itself.

And so we call them “failed states” sometimes, pretending that these entities still retain some semblance of statehood for which parliaments and constitutions and armies can legitimately be assembled.

I chuckle at the attempts of Lebanese politicians to cobble together a new government while gunmen traipse across their borders, unimpeded, just a few miles away. I roll my eyes at the “elected” and “selected” Syrian external opposition – disembodied pashas who don’t have a square-inch of land to call their own. And I cringe when “experts” reference democratic underpinnings in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq, where central authority is as evasive as border security.

“But you have no state,” I want to say.

It is an as-yet unframed idea, yet the clever Arab Street seems to sense this where others don’t – hence the dramatic recent rise in fortunes of national armies, possibly the only functioning institutions in many of these wobbly states, and the only entity that can safeguard borders.

Egypt gets it. Syria gets it. Iraq cannot, nor can Yemen, Libya or Lebanon – they don’t have strong centralized armies or authorities that can credibly work toward shutting down borders and re-establishing security. When Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ejected an elected government, he understood that lawlessness in the Sinai and calls for Jihad in Syria, Libya and elsewhere would erode the Egyptian state. When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called for reinforcement to fight the tide of foreign fighters flooding Syria’s borders, this was a rallying call for Russia, Hezbollah and Iran to protect their own borders.

Dictators? Tyrants? Maybe, maybe not. But also perhaps the last buffers against the destruction of the nation-state.

Porous borders will delegitimize any central authority over time. And the lack of sovereignty will in turn breed the kind of lawlessness that further erodes territorial integrity.

Yes, “statelessness” is the biggest threat to “democracy” in the Middle East today.

A Threat to the Global Order

Writing about military interventions in general, and in Syria in particular, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pointed out last year: “In the absence of a clearly articulated strategic concept, a world order that erodes borders and merges international and civil wars can never catch its breath.”

Kissinger was, in effect, questioning whether the endless stream of US interventions under the guise of “humanitarian” or democracy-promoting militarism, was not fundamentally eroding the world order established in 17th century Europe by the Treaty of Westphalia.

The Westphalian system – which sought to inhibit warring European armies from imposing their religious beliefs on each other - was the precursor to the establishment of the nation-state, which Kissinger calls “the basic unit of international order.”

The nation-state, in turn, is predicated on two commonly acknowledged qualities: sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But a quick glance at the Middle East today will show the precarious position of the nation-state in this region:

Sovereignty, which is essentially the recognition of “authority” over a geographic area, is being expediently dismissed by regional and international foes in a very dangerous way. Foreign demands that “Assad must go” or “Qaddafi must leave” or “Ahmadinejad is illegitimate” are quick sovereignty-busters – leadership changes must only manifest through an internal process via consensus, whether it is at the ballot box or through domestic dissent of the majority.

Territorial Integrity was once viewed as an integral principle of international relations whereby states would not impose border changes by force or subversion, but today the concept of “humanitarian intervention” under the banner of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has fundamentally challenged this tenet of the nation-state system.

As things stand now, if you can convincingly demonize a foe, you can bulldoze through sovereignty and territorial integrity under cover of R2P with nary a concern for undermining international law.

But each time this happens, we destroy another foundational brick propping up our global system. And it won’t be long before Massachusetts decides it has nothing in common with Texas, and Wales tells England to take a hike.

The US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its forecast on global trends earlier this year and warned of the scenario of a “Nonstate World” in which governments relinquish much of their responsibilities to self-governed enclaves. That scenario is already playing out in the Middle East, and unless we move to preserve the current system of statehood, it will fast become the new world order.

Sabotage, Jihadists

While foreign military invasions are a sure-fire democracy-buster, just as insidious is the subversion of governments and populations via propaganda, sabotage, assassinations and “dirty tricks.”

Take, for instance, Iran. The Islamic Republic should technically be able to enjoy a flourishing democracy, given that it vigorously controls its borders and has a strong, elected, central government. But the country cannot stretch its wings because of the daily barrage of information warfare, cyber warfare and foreign-backed dirty tricks focused on undermining the central authority, its various institutions, and its armed forces.

The Arab uprisings, however, brought with them a whole new set of challenges. Sudden instability arose across the region with the rapid removal of long-term governing authorities - inviting aggressive competing interests seeking to establish their own power bases. Weapons flowed across borders and jihadists began an ideological trek that has now breached the security of all states involved in uprisings.

Salafi extremist groups, which reject the nation-state system, were natural entrants into the fray. They thrive where there is chaos; they gravitate toward security vacuums. These are the very environments and conditions in which extremists can usurp authority, lay down Sharia law and erect their “Caliphates.”

And they leap from local to transnational jihadi networks in an instant. Ideologically extremist fighters from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya and dozens of other nations make their way toward the “fight” and the new “base” in Qalamoun or Sinai or Anbar – wherever the call for Jihad beckons.

We are in a tough place in the Middle East today. Between Western-GCC-Turkish-backed regime-change operations and the jihadist lava pouring over our borders, the nation-state is eroding before our very eyes.

Democracy? Forget it.

Give me a strong army that will shoot down armed men crossing over my border. Give me a national leader who will show no mercy in facing down car-bombings, assassinations, sabotage. Give me a statesman who will respect your religion but blow you into your “janna” if you try to snuff out mine.

Yes, I want governance based on consensus, rule of law and justice. But give me safe borders, first.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.


Infinitely better than heart and liver eating wahabi/salafi extremists! lol

You mean like foreign iranian shia militias patrolling Damscus. this kind of safe Borders. LOL

A very strong article. How can people have anything like freedom if (thanks to the Americans and their allies) they live in fear? What's the use of elections, when (thanks to the Saudis) Iraqi fear walking near cars, because they may blow up? This unholy alliance has ruined this part of the world.

" thanks to the Americans ", and Pres GW Bush, Iraqi enjoy much greater freedom than they did under Saddam Husain. !
Iraqis " live in fear " of the murderous sectarian antics of their fellow Muslims. Blaming others for your own problems is just SO Arab!

The fan of the dumbest prez in USA history (no mean fit) is sure entitled to speak on behalf of Iraqis - including not only millions of Iraqis murdered, tortured, poisoned, exiled and robbed by the dumbest prez in USA history (no mean fit) and Obama, but all of them - daily victims of poisonous legacy of the dumbest prez in USA history (no mean fit) and Obama war crimes, including sectarian discord festering.

On the other hand, the fan of the dumbest prez in USA history (no mean fit) being spied on 24/7 by his own rulers is still sure he lives in "democracy".

Ms Narwani's defense. Of fascism gives us this to do" chuckle " at. ::
" " Take for instance, Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran should technically. ( ?) be able to enjoy a flourishing democracy, given that it vigorously controls its borders ""

If trigger happy border guards are Ms Narwani 's measure of a. " flourishing democracy " , she might have praised the " flourishing democracy " of the East German Stazi!

The fan of the dumbest prez in USA history (no mean fit) shows that he is not for nothing the fan of the dumbest prez in USA history (no mean fit)
To even mention the word Stazi while all the world is pointing at USA spy shops as the biggest (and stupidest) snoops in the history while the same snoops used the blame Stazi for spying on the DDR people. It seems now that Stazi was a very modest operation relatively,

And, by the way, how many USA citizens (usually of "wrong" skin color) trigger happy USA cops routinely murder? At least DDR border guards did not murdered little children and grannies in their own bedrooms, unlike USA cops. Not mentioning border guards in USA murdering people by shooting through the border.

The fan of mass-murderer, torturer and snoop should be more careful while opening his piehole.

bush the liberator ~ "If trigger happy border guards are Ms Narwani 's measure of a. " flourishing democracy " , she might have praised the " flourishing democracy " of the East German Stazi!"

Or the Zionist Apartheid state of Israel ???

Nicely written article.
you are simply presenting the natural trade-off between political change and security. You don't mind being a secured slave, good for you. I don't think the rest of the Arab world would agree with you. the Arab spring proves that.

It is only natural for a post colonial world like the Arab one, which is built on soo diverse a population with many economical problem forced to live together under the thumbs of dictators, to have sovereignty issues after a number of revolutions.

My worry is that many would interpret your article as a disguised defense of authoritarianism.

Post revolutionary stage is never easy. after the french revolution they had many years of dictatorship. look at eastern Europe, they are still suffering from their democratic transition. but its better than being a slave. Hopefully we will get somewhere.

Yes, look at eastern Europe after it turned into puppets of NATO, look and stop call it "democracy". They are just doormats of Western imperialism, cannon fodder for its colonial wars and cheap cleaners and whores. Of course, for some folk it is called "suffering from their democratic transition". For me it is called imperialist takeover.

And, by the way, now they are all very pro-Zionists. One more sight of "democracy".

I believe the author says that safety and security are the precursors to all forms of representative governance.

The Trouble in MENA ...

Strong borders are indeed necessary and for that strong security forces are needed and for that a strong sense of national identity is requisite. But there are strong forces allied against Arab nationalism and here are the major forces that come into play.

The first is bankster neoliberalism. Whereby countries are thrown into debt to become debt serfs for the Oligarchies and foreign countries. The colored revolutions were designed to establish "democracies" that could be bought and "legalize" the privatization of a country's common wealth.

The second is tribalism. Most Arab countries are an amalgam of different tribes each seeking to maintain and expand their power bases. The neoliberals can utilize tribalism to destroy nationalism.

The third major force is the Wahabbi Fatwa on the Shia, Alawites and Christians. Billions of dollars are being spent by the Gulf States primarily the KSA and Qatar to fund Qaeda and Islamists to undermine "secular" or Shia governments.

The fourth major disruptive force is "Aristocratic Islamism" versus "Muslim Brotherhood Islamism". This is basically right wing aristocratic Islamism versus left wing Islamism. Both lend themselves to neoliberalism.

These are the major forces in play in MENA and they are exacerbated by the world wide recession/depression. Each country has a different "mix" of these forces but they all have these four forces playing out in one form or another to destroy or usurp "nationalism".

I agree with all of that, but I should like to be more explicit about why both extremes of Islamism lend themselves to neoliberalism. They lend themselves to western liberalism as such, because western liberalism emerged out of the collapse of the feudal order and the rise of capitalism. The purpose of liberalism was to find a niche, at least in appearance, for the 'moral values' of religion, for the idea that human beings of all ranks, high and low, could hope for justice from life in society. That includes more than justice at the hands of formal law; it includes the crucially ambiguous and vague idea of 'social justice', which is to say, a fair day's wage for a fair days' work, a wage sufficient to bring up a family, and decent schooling, and health. I find it very ironic that early in his career, Sayyid Qutb wrote a book called "Social Justice in Islam," because this book lives a submerged existence underneath today's MB, possibly so that it can be furtively given to new Brethren in the hope of fooling them into the idea that if the MB ever gained power, it would pursue 'social justice', rather than repressive moral campaigns. This is exactly what happened to Protestant Christianity in the West after the Reformation and the rise of capitalism. It became, because of its vagueness, the tool of a game of political hide & seek, looking for the elusive, lost ideal of 'social justice'. And in the West as in the modern East, when religion comes to power, it brings not 'social justice' but repressive moral campaigns. This is even true of the Orthodox Jewish parties in the Zionist Entity. They do exactly the same thing. It's a true universal of the modern world.

Just as Neoconservatism purports to represent "conservative values" when actually it represents imperial militaristic values, neoliberalism purports to endorse "liberal values" while it is in fact a Trojan Horse to implement bankster corporatism through nefarious trade deals and the corruption of sovereign institutions for the privatization of public assets and to mortgage both public and private sectors so as they become debt serfs that can be held hostage through financial means.

Both Wahhabi and Brotherhood Islam use neoliberalism as another means of social control and asset accumulation for the ruling classes and their complicit foreign individuals and corporations.

We see that in both Turkey and Morsi's Egypt that the Brotherhood was and is complicit with bankster capitalism. Both turned to the IMF, both were and are deeply embedded with western financial capital.

In the Wahhabi or aristocratic states the elites use neoliberalism to accumulate wealth using western financial vehicles to "offshore" assets siphoned from revenues, kickbacks and bribes while draining public coffers.

In both cases these two "Islams" use loans to camouflage their theft leaving the countries themselves indebted. The same can be said of the private indebtedness that neoliberalism promotes. During crises, which Imperialists love to promote, these encumbered assets can be had for pennies on the dollar.

Looking at the interventions under the guise of P2P and anti-terrorism we see countries that had no debt servitude, that were not party to the neoliberal bankster financialism agenda of the NATO countries. Those countries were Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria.

All of these countries had no debt, and were not party to WTO rules whereby they could not be exploited either financially nor their valuable resources encumbered nor seized by foreign corporations or individuals. In other words there was no way to encumber nor confiscate their wealth.

Neoliberalism is merely using the guise of liberal values to control resources, markets, trade and countries through debt, trade rules, corrupted local and national politics. Sovereignty is negated so the ruling elites, be they Aristocratic or Brotherhood, and their foreign conspirators are above the law. When the game unravels both can claim indebtedness for the austerity they inflict on the citizenry selling more public assets and slashing spending for social needs.

It strikes me that people who trumpet on about neoliberalism as if it was the source of all evil, are consciously or unconsciously trying to imply that if the West could just find its way back to good old fashioned paleo-liberalism, everything would be alright again. This is not the case. There is no flavour of liberalism that is compatible with the much desired 'social justice'. But people not subject to your particular word game about neo vs paleo probably know that. What I want to communicate to them is that there is also no flavour of religion that will do it. There is nothing that will do it except the uprooting of capitalism, which unfortunately means violent, bloody revolution on a world scale. Understandably, nobody wants to have to think this, but there it is.

I didn't say neoliberalism was the root of all evil ... It is just the current method of redistribution of wealth upwards by the ruling classes. You speak of uprooting capitalism but do not speak of what will replace capitalism. There has to be a mix of capitalism\mercantilism and socialism. One or the other has proven not to work ... The key is the balance between the people, the state and commerce. Obviously there is no balance currently ... Corporations have usurped the state and the people grow poorer everyday ...

If you wait until some party (some tiny, laughed-at "groupuscule") has worked out the correct "mix of capitalism\mercantilism and socialism," somehow wormed its way into a mass media outlet to preach it, gained "democratic" acceptance of it, and then orchestrated a politically-correct world revolution, you will be waiting too long. Therefore, I say, let global revolution happen on any basis, or none at all. Perhaps Sharmine and I will find ourselves riding on the back of the same tiger, or perhaps not. Who can predict the fate of one particular boy and one particular girl in the raging seas of global revolution? Only joking.

I'd like to add something to my previous comment, if I may: ever since 1948, the Arab governments have justified themselves propaganda-wise by proclaiming their hostility to Israel. However, competing to subsidise token Palestinian guerrilla forces does nothing to damage the Zionist colonial enterprise, indeed it assists it by giving it a pretext for draconian reprisals against the Arabs within its own borders and those in its occupied territories, and in addition allows it to suppress its own, Jewish radical Left. Now, as time goes by and the US power wanes, as it undoubtedly will, much of the advanced military technology that Israel currently utilises (such as precision guided missiles with which it 'strikes' more or less random targets outside its own borders, now a general Western practice), will become less and less efficient, because phony US money will no longer be there to pay for technological development. Therefore, conventional military reprisals against Zionist aggression will return to the realm of possibility. Judging an Arab 'regime' by its willingness to subsidise useless token resistances such as Hamas is delusory anyhow, in my opinion. This is why I asked yesterday, "what good has Hamas ever done to anybody?" Therefore, to judge Sisi in Egypt by the willingness of his government to help or hinder Hamas is delusory too, and even if Sisi were to directly assist Israel in 'solving the problem of the Gaza Strip,' this would not prove anything. Equally, Iran should in my opinion stop wasting money on Hamas. Gaza may become an Egyptian 'protectorate' or something. It does not matter. The day will come when the Arab states can once again contemplate regular military confrontation with Israel. That is the day to wish for.

I wouldn't call it dumb: actually I agree with it. Fascism is not a word that scares me. The reality, in the Nasserist tradition, is more accurately called 'developmental dictatorship'. the alternative is the a neoliberal anarchy that protects no-one except the local agents of the western multinationals. Calling that anarchy 'democracy' is just putting lipstick on a pig. But I have one observation to make: in my opinion, the only reason General al-Sisi was able to mount an Army coup in Egypt, against the wishes of the US, which at that time still regarded the MBs as 'democratic flavor of the month', is that the build-up of Jihadis in the Sinai crossed what the Israelis call a red line, and so they gave Sisi the green light (excuse my mixed colour metaphors). This incidentally shows that Israeli decisions are able to override, countermand and change US ones.

The article raises valid points. The US and Saudi Arabia have created a situation where Syrians and many Lebanese live in fear. They have destroyed any chance for freedom and democracy.

I usually agree with Sharmine, but I would never agree that Sisi is not simple a tool of Saudis (and, of course, Zionists). No wonder they support him against the token displease of USA. Sisi role is to protect Zionists first, and it means Egyptian borders could be damned (as per Sinai being not under Egyptian control, but on the severance of Zionist permission).
If Sisi is not for helping terrorists in Syria, it does not mean he is a patriot of Egypt - he just serves USA, Zionists and Saudi royals other ways, esp. oppressing Palestinians.

Other than that, I have lived in the USSR and then - under rule of "democratic" Elzin the lackey of NATO. I am sure I prefer the former.

Yeaaaa thats it, when we r safe we can get biger and stronger and thats it if anyone wanna come to make shits to out country lets just blow them up to not even have the thought to do it again!

This is the dumbest thing I've read recently. Safe borders is the last thing I want if I don't have economic, political, or social dignity. Something that a governance based on consensus, rule of law, and justice.

This is a sad, sad attempt to justify fascism, dictatorships, and 'security' over everything else. Ironically, this is how the Israelis and Americans think. Not something I want for my region or my country (Syria).

Please, reassess this silliness Sharmine. You ain't helping anyone.

I think her point is that you wont have "economic, political, or social dignity", etc., without safe borders. And yeah, it makes sense, since its hard to have any of those without stability, and its hard to have stability with borders that are violated every day.

In conclusion, your comment is substantially dumber than the article.

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